Butler Bonham was a rowdy son of South Carolina. At a very young
age he was known as a high-spirited fellow who seemed to always
be in and out of trouble during much of his youth. Bonham was born
at Red Banks, South Carolina, in 1807, and he was killed in combat
on March 6, 1836, in Texas - at the Alamo.
According to the Handbook of Texas, Bonham was a second cousin to
the commander of the Alamo, William Barrett Travis. It seems these
South Carolina kin folk were destined to become heroes fighting
for the cause of freedom in a place far from home.
Much has been written about Travis, but Bonham doesn’t receive near
as much notoriety - although he was as much a hero as his cousin.
It seems the men who fought and died in the Texas Revolution were
cut from the same cloth - at least the leaders were. Like Travis,
and Crockett; James Bonham was a man known for getting into altercations.
He studied law in South Carolina and opened a law office in the
town of Pendleton in 1830. Bonham is said to have taken a cane to
an opposing lawyer during a trial because he believed the man insulted
his female client.
When the judge ordered Bonham to apologize to his opponent, he threatened
to “[tweak] the judge’s nose.” That remark landed the high-spirited
lawyer in jail for 90 days after the judge found him in contempt
In 1832, Bonham was serving as an aide to South Carolina Gov. James
Hamilton. That position brought him the rank of lieutenant colonel.
The year 1834, found Bonham practicing law in Montgomery, Alabama.
And by 1835, the young lawyer was rapidly throwing more of his support
behind the Texas fight for independence.
After he led a rally for the Texas cause in Mobile, Alabama, the
citizens there appointed him to send their support to Sam
Houston. He organized a volunteer company, the Mobile Grays,
to serve in Texas.
Bonham reached Texas in November 1835 and immediately got involved
in military affairs. He wrote a letter to Sam
Houston volunteering his services to Texas while declining all
pay, lands, or rations in return. Although he was commissioned a
second lieutenant in the Texas cavalry, he wasn’t assigned to a
specific unit. During this time he set up a law practice in Brazoria.
It is has been written that Houston
held a lot of admiration for the young lawyer from South Carolina.
He recommended that Bonham be given the rank of major because, as
“His influence in the army is great - more so than some who would
Bonham is believed to have traveled to San
Antonio with James Bowie on Jan. 19, 1836. It seems that Bonham
became a trusted messenger for Travis. History tells us that he
was present sporadically at the Alamo.
He continued to come and go through Mexican army lines carrying
Travis’ pleas for help to the Texas settlements.
There is some controversy as to whether or not Bonham brought the
news that Col. Fannin was not bringing reinforcements from Goliad
as is sometimes depicted in movies about the Alamo.
Actually he brought word from Robert M. Williamson, one of the framers
of the Texas declaration for independence that help was on the way
and urged Travis to hold out.
But we know that, other than 32 brave men from Gonzales,
no other help came and Bonham died with the rest of the defenders
on March 6, 1836. He is believed to have died in the interior of
the Alamo chapel manning one of the cannons.
The young lawyer/soldier died for the cause of freedom a long way
from his birthplace in Red Banks, South Carolina, but the people
of Texas didn’t forget his service or that he made the ultimate
In 1936, the Texas Centennial Commission erected a statue of Bonham
on the courthouse square of the town of Bonham,
named in his honor.
Star Diary November
2 , 2013 column
| Columns | Texas
Towns | Texas